Spa Treatments: Pain Management Therapy
Target clients’ pain via diverse bodywork services designed to ease a range of ailments.
According to Dr. Carmen R. Green, a pain medicine physician and professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, chronic pain inflicts more than 100 million Americans—and disproportionately impacts women and minorities. “Pain is a silent epidemic that affects the entire person, including physical, social and emotional well-being,” Green says, adding that it is medically associated with depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
But Green believes that day spas are in a prime position to break the cycles of discomfort that pain can initiate, and establish sounder body/mind connections. She notes that, at a basic level, even soothing spa music can distract clients and diminish their pain. “Taking care of the physical and spiritual body is crucial to pain management,” she explains. “Services such as massage are complementary to modern medicine, and patients no longer view them as alternative; they’re now part of the mainstream, so day spas have a great place in this conversation.”
DAYSPA recently checked out six North American spas that have already joined the conversation, and are helping clients lead more balanced, relaxed and pain-free lives through innovative service offerings. —By Tracy Morin
Maya Moon Healing Arts in Boulder, CO
The Arvigo Techniques employed in this unique spa’s Maya Abdominal Therapy (90 min./$110-150) were developed by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, a naprathic physician who has extensively studied Central American shamans’ traditional healing rituals. This modality works to restore the body to its natural balance by aligning organs that have shifted, and restoring the flow of blood, lymph, nerve and energy (chi). It is thought to be especially beneficial for pain associated with women’s reproductive concerns: PMS; cervical dysplasia; endometriosis; and fertility, pregnancy and postpartum issues. It may also help ease digestive complaints as well as anxiety and depression.
“Working with the first, second and third chakras, we stimulate blood and energy flow via manipulation of the belly and sacrum,” explains Maya Moon owner Naomi Boggs. “This creates blood flow to the uterus, yet these motions also benefit male clients; they can help with erectile dysfunction.”
For maximum effect, Boggs recommends three treatments in the first month (including an initial 90-minute consultation, during which the client fills out a 13-page intake form to help therapists gain a crystal-clear understanding of her problems), then twice per month for the subsequent three to four months. She even teaches clients how to perform the massage on themselves to maintain results afterward, and leads workshops on reproductive self-care throughout the country ($325-$375).
Maya Moon therapists must each demonstrate a mastery of self-care and progress through two additional levels of education in Arvigo techniques (which usually takes about a year) before becoming certified to practice on clients. “It’s very important to me that therapists practice the self-care they preach; the choir isn’t going to listen to a practitioner who doesn’t know virtually everything about digestive and reproductive anatomy, or who smokes or has poor nutrition.”
Though Boggs admits it can be difficult to guide clients through what can be an “intense experience,” Maya Abdominal Therapy has proved popular: Her business is booked two weeks in advance due solely to word of mouth. “I’ve helped hundreds of women get pregnant when doctors said they couldn’t, so it’s been life-changing,” she says. “We work hard to help clients improve on every level: nutritionally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.”
Align Spa in Park City, UT
A well-known destination for snow bunnies, Park City’s slopes host floods of skiers every winter—but constant wear and tear on their feet can quickly lead to discomfort. Hence, Align Spa’s Ski Boot Revenge (30 min./$35), a service that soothes the tired tootsies of tourists and locals alike after days of intense activity. Therapists begin by treating clients’ feet and legs to a hot Epsom salt soak, followed by an exfoliating and rejuvenating coffee salt scrub. The subsequent foot and leg massage concentrates on pressure points and employs deeper strokes to target soreness and break down lactic acid buildup. A paraffin dip provides a dose of healing heat before guests are invited to stand up and feel the difference.
Align advertises this treatment on its website, showcases it in popular packages, and relies heavily on cross-marketing with area hotels to generate referrals. “Before each ski season starts, we drop off information at all the hotels and resorts,” explains spa director Callie Sorensen. And, though the service was designed for skiers, the Ski Boot Revenge has become a year-round favorite with all manner of active-minded spa-goers. “A lot of people flock here in the summer to hike, so they benefit from it too,” Sorensen says. “We highly recommend it for relief of anyone’s foot or leg pain.”
The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa in Fairfield, IA
The Maharishi Ayurveda Pain Management program (prices vary), which is based on traditional ayurvedic practices that have been employed to manage pain for thousands of years, has brought relief to hundreds of The Raj guests over the past 20 years. The secret to its success? According to Dr. Mark Toomey, director of ayurvedic programs at The Raj, ayurveda recognizes that pain can have many causes. He points out that headaches, migraines and chronic pain often stem from injuries of the joints, muscles or bones, but says that less obvious causes of pain often lie in excess vata, the ayurvedic dosha primarily associated with movement, as well as the presence of ama, the buildup of toxic waste in our physiology.
“If you never change the oil in your car, it can get thick and full of sludge, and the engine begins to run less efficiently,” Toomey explains. “In the same way, our bodies can build up a kind of sludge (or ama) due to poor diet, compromised digestion and poor lifestyle choices. This ama blocks the channels of the body that allow for movement—the flow of intelligence, nutrients, blood, oxygen, etc.—and when the flowing, moving aspect of vata gets blocked, one may experience pain.”
Because blockages can be caused by a number of factors (such as disease or injury), The Raj health experts assess each guest prior to their visit to begin to glean underlying factors, and then issue special dietary recommendations and home preparations. Upon arrival at The Raj, clients meet with health experts for an extensive consultation that includes an ayurvedic pulse assessment to detect subtle imbalances and blockages in the body. Based on this assessment, an individualized treatment program is designed. The program often includes abhyanga, an herbalized oil massage performed by dual therapists using synchronized strokes, as well as a massage ritual called kalari marma chikitsa. Traditionally used for muscle and joint pain, this service helps clear toxins from the body’s vital circulation channels. Other successful treatments for pain relief include patra potli, an herbal bolus massage; pizzichilli, a warm herbal oil bath; and pinda swedhana, a creamy milk-based bolus massage that serves as a soothing and nourishing solution to achy joints and muscles.
For continued results, The Raj’s health experts may also recommend herbal formulations designed to remove ama, pacify vata and target pain in specific areas of the body. “The Raj also provides individualized at-home programs, recognizing the importance of diet, routine and lifestyle in pain management,” says Toomey. “Also, the practice of the Transcendental Meditation is recommended to help control the stress response mechanism in the body.”
Willow Spa in Los Angeles
Willow Spa offers a complete menu for athletes, but its most unique service is the Willow Enzyme Bath + Athlete’s Stretch (105 min./$166). It involves a dry bathtub filled with wood shavings, rice bran, and fruit and vegetable enzymes imported from Japan. When guests climb in, these ingredients heat naturally to 120 to 130 degrees, detoxifying and boosting metabolism fivefold, according to co-owner Wendy Reeves. The enzyme bath was popularized by Japanese athletes competing in the 1972 Winter Olympic games, and continues to be a hit with athletes seeking to prevent and recover from injury at Willow Spa.
Clients begin the service by slipping into spa-designed loungewear and receiving a citrus flower foot soak and massage. An accompanying glass of cool ginger tea with a shot of enzymes kick-starts internal detoxification. The full benefits of the tub are achieved in 20 minutes, though some clients won’t last that long in the heat (this largely depends on the current health of the body).
Afterward, the guest showers and visits the relaxation room, where a Thai mat is placed on the floor for traditional foot and leg stretches. Clients often opt to add a sports massage after the bath and stretch to take advantage of the open, relaxed state of their muscles. “The service is not solely beneficial to athletes, but suits anyone seeking to detox, improve circulation, prevent illness…it’s even great for skin,” says Reeves.
To spread word about the service, the spa has partnered with area chiropractors, physical therapists, personal trainers and yoga instructors. Administering the bath portion is a challenge, as it requires hands-on attendance to maintain heat, as well as the daily hand-turning and feeding of the enzymatic material. Therapists, meanwhile, must ensure clients get in and out of the bath safely, so they receive education on how the body reacts to heat and how the tub works, and undergo extensive hands-on training before working with clients. But the results are worth the effort, Reeves reports. “The service hastens recovery of soft-tissue injuries—and provides an aerobic workout equivalent to running a mile!” she enthuses. “It’s a very unique but a very deep and healing treatment.”
Pain Treatment Spa in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
At the one-year-old Pain Treatment Spa, therapists have revolutionized migraine treatment with a noninvasive, handheld medical device called the Alpha-Stim, which uses probes and cranial electrotherapy stimulation to relieve pain. The microcurrents activate nerve cells in the brain’s stem, which produces serotonin and helps fine-tune the activity of nerve pathways running up into the brain and down into the spinal cord. This appears to mitigate and prevent migraine pain and help recipients reach an alpha state of brain wave movement, which is marked by feelings of calmness, relaxation and increased mental focus.
After an in-depth assessment with a clinician, who evaluates pain levels and sources to advise proper protocol, clients settle into massage chairs and have the Alpha-Stim clipped to their ears for a Migraine Therapy Session (up to 3 hrs./$50 total). Many then opt to rent or purchase the device to use on a daily basis at home (the spa also acts as the Canadian distributor for the Texas-based company). “We explain all their options from the beginning, allowing clients to take control of their conditions,” explains owner Debbie Abry.
Conditions both acute and chronic, including fibromyalgia, arthritis and carpal tunnel, can also be treated with the device. Clinicians are trained through courses offered at the manufacturer’s headquarters as well as regular webinars. Business is thriving thanks to word of mouth, referrals and even curious passersby, whose interest is frequently piqued by signs promoting this less-familiar spa option.
Abry recommends that clients keep in touch with their doctors to monitor interactions with any medications. She reports that several clients consider these treatments an ideal choice for persistent migraine pain. “In a society that depends so heavily on pharmaceuticals, people are now starting to realize there are alternatives,” she explains. “Sometimes drugs aren’t working, and we need to focus on balancing the body. These treatments can support medicine, but for patients who have tried everything, they can be a great alternative altogether.”
Zama Massage Therapeutic Spa in Portland, OR
The state of Oregon stipulates that in cases of auto-related injury, massage must be covered by auto insurance carriers, so Zama offers a specialized massage program specifically designed for such clients. Whiplash, back strain and shoulder injury are common complaints, says Zama co-owner Lynn Bukowski, and clients under the care of a physician can get a prescription for massage that notes specific areas of injury. “For Auto Injury services [60 min./prices vary], we massage only the areas affected,” Bukowski explains. “We employ either ice or heat to hasten recovery, and use cupping techniques—pulling muscles up and away, rather than the more typical pushing method.”
Twice-weekly appointments are recommended for four to six weeks, then once a week for a few months, but some clients may visit for a full year (sessions can be shortened for those with more acute conditions, who are more sensitive to touch). Clients complete intake forms before each session to share pain levels and track progress, and they also see their doctors every four to six weeks to evaluate recovery.
The spa works with several chiropractors and acupuncturists in the area to obtain referrals, and many car accident victims find the spa’s services through online searches and word of mouth.
Bukowski explains that it can be a challenge for therapists to adhere to prescribed treatment regimens for individual clients (insurance companies will take issue if the spa strays from the plan), and then there’s additional insurance-related legwork—writing an extensive report after each session and billing the insurance company, for instance—which means that it can often take 90 days, or even years, for the spa to receive payment. “A lot of therapists don’t want to do insurance billing,” admits Bukoswki. “But we’re ultimately glad to take that risk—it’s all about us helping the injured client.”
Unfortunately, those who have just suffered auto accidents are often hesitant to visit a spa because they don’t want to make more claims and already have so much to worry about. “They can feel overwhelmed, which creates anxiety on top of the injury; it all comes up when you touch them, and we’re able to help manage all that,” says Bukowski. And, despite all the challenges, Zama therapists “love to perform this service because it’s more of a challenge and more fun; you get to see someone enter in excruciating pain and see them leave a few months later in an almost normal state.”